Over the years, Manchester United have become known for outsourcing when it comes to the centre-back position. Just look at the likes of Jaap Stam, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in the past, or Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly more recently. It is a tough position to break through in as a youth at the club.
But, with that said, following the acquisition of the aforementioned Maguire, now club captain, the next two candidates to potentially make some noise at the heart of United’s defence are both academy products. Axel Tuanzebe is the obvious one. The one that is dubbed as perhaps one day the future captain. Teden Mengi, the 18-year-old prospect and the focus of this weeks article, is the other.
Date of Birth: 30/4/2002
Preferred Foot: Right
Manchester United U18 & (U23) — Apps: 11 (15) | Goals: 2
England U18 — Apps: 4
Having just signed his first professional contract at the club in the summer — Mengi, who celebrates his 18th birthday as this article is being written — is a perfect example of a modern day centre-back.
Athletic, comfortable on the ball, vocal in between the lines and able to read the game very well. Mengi’s presence and ability to defend on and off the ball has commanded the respect of his teammates and attracted the attention of first-team coaches and fans.
Standing at six feet tall, Mengi naturally isn’t the biggest in his position in comparison to some of his colleagues that are at the top of the game right now. Maguire and Virgil Van Dijk are both four inches taller than him. But, what Mengi lacks in height he makes up in abundance with every aspect of his game.
Similarly to his fellow academy graduate, the aforementioned Tuanzebe, Mengi’s athleticism makes him stand out on the pitch. He’s rapid. Rarely does he make big errors that put his sides in danger, but when he does, he can make up for it in a chase.
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Mengi is also very technical. That’s becoming more typical for modern day footballers in all positions. They are very comfortable on the ball. Mengi is a ball-playing centre back that can fit into most systems with the on-ball ability of a central midfielder.
As he celebrated his birthday over the past 24 hours or so, several clips of Mengi emerged across social media, posted by his teammates sending him wishes. In one of them, Mengi can be seen stepping out from the back line into the centre circle to win the ball back before flicking it over his opponents head and playing a glorious outside of the boot through pass into Anthony Elanga who went on to score. The confidence was oozing from Mengi in that play. He made it look effortless, proving that he is far from an old-school, no nonsense centre back.
Having that kind of ability is priceless for Mengi looking in at the first-team picture. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has prioritized playing out from the back to build attacks, hence the signing of Maguire last summer, and Mengi fits that profile of player.
The talk among the United faithful with the summer transfer window approaching has involved the potential need of bringing in one more central defender for depth. But looking at the personnel at Solskjaer’s disposal right now, do Maguire, Tuanzebe, Lindelof and Bailly really need another high profile defender in that mix? Or would it be better to give that fifth spot to an academy player showing a tremendous amount of promise?
Mengi has already been involved with the first team this season. Other than regularly training with the senior squad, Mengi was also part of the youthful side that went on the trip to Astana to close out United’s Europa League group stage campaign. Unfortunately, Mengi didn’t get a game that day, making way for his elders in Tuanzebe and Di’Shon Bernard, but he did get his first taste of the first team setup. That was the ultimate indicator that as a 17-year-old then, he was in the small group of players considered to fill out the 18-man match day squad.
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That in itself should be enough incentive for Mengi to continue making strides in his development. Out of all the players we have covered so far, he might just be the most complete footballer and the closest to some more regular first-team involvement. As a 17-year-old Mengi barely played for the U18’s this season. He has been a regular and a stalwart for United’s PL2 U23 side this campaign and he has been receiving nothing but plaudits.
Mengi has featured in all but two U23 league games this season, missing those as a result of U18 cup commitments, also showing that he can be relied upon. Mengi has managed to stay healthy and continue the upward trend of his progress. With all of those things considered, the teenager has emerged as a more than promising prospect for the youth friendly senior squad, labeled by many as one of the best defenders to come through the academy.
Solskjaer’s first team has at times been very unlucky with injuries at the centre back position in recent months and it would come as no surprise, if that was to be the case next season, to see Mengi get the nod in some meaningful senior games. He is of course yet to make his full senior debut, but with the way he’s performing at all youth levels and with the hype constantly growing, you’d have to imagine that his United bow is just around the corner.